Objective: To assess the perceived effectiveness of cigarette health warnings in China, compared with picture and text-only warnings from other countries.
Method: 1169 individuals (adult smokers, adult nonsmokers and youth) from four Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming and Yinchuan) viewed 10 health warnings on cigarette packages, which included (a) the current Chinese text warnings covering 30% of the front/back of the pack (introduced October 2008); (b) the former Chinese text warning located on the side of the pack; (c) four picture warnings covering 50% of the front/back of the pack from Canada (lung cancer), Singapore (mouth disease), Hong Kong (gangrene) and European Union (clogged arteries); and (d) the same four warnings without the picture. Participants rated and ranked the 10 warnings on dimensions including how effective each would be in motivating smokers to quit and in convincing youth not to start smoking.
Results: Both Chinese warnings were consistently rated as least effective, with the new Chinese warning rated only slightly higher than the old warning. The picture warnings were consistently ranked or rated as most effective, with the text-only versions in the middle. Results were consistent across subject group, city and sex.
Conclusions: (1) Picture warnings are rated as much more effective than the same warnings without pictures. (2) The revised health warnings in China, introduced in October 2008, are only marginally more effective than the previous warning and far less effective than even text warnings from other countries. These results, coupled with population-based evaluation studies, suggest that pictorial warnings would significantly increase the impact of health warnings in China.